During my childhood days, we had a vacant lot that became the gathering place for all the neighborhood kids. We had some great ball games on that old vacant lot. It was like Yankee Stadium to me and my pals on Crenshaw Street. Recently, I drove through that old neighborhood on the east side of Fort Worth, Texas. The houses and yards that once were so manicured and pristine are mostly unkempt and in disrepair these days. In fact, several of the houses on my block are vacant and boarded up, and the ones still inhabited have iron bars over their windows and doors. But the old vacant lot is still there in all its former glory. As I parked in front of it, a thousand memories flooded my mind.
There was one particular kid on our street who always showed up at the lot to play ball with us. He always wore black high-top canvas tennis shoes laced only about halfway up, leaving several empty eyelets at the top of his shoes. In the library of people I have known who were impatient, this kid was way up there on the top shelf. When his shoelaces became knotted, he never took the time, nor had the patience, to sit down and patiently work the knots out so the laces could be untied. He would ceremoniously take out his little pocketknife and cut the knot off, taking with it several inches of shoestrings. Thus, his shoes never had enough laces to reach all the way to the top.
While reading and studying the fifth chapter of Nehemiah — who led the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem — I thought about that kid and came to this conclusion: rebuilders never cut what they can untie. Think about that statement. Rebuilders patiently work through the knots of interpersonal relationships instead of just cutting them off and going about life. They take their time, making sure the knots are untied in such a way that they can be tied once again. It is a fact: rebuilders never cut what they can untie.
Conflict resolution is a hot topic these days, in both the business world and the social arena. And it should be. Conflict can tear a team apart—whether it is in the home, at the office, on the court, or even in the church. Unresolved conflict can do irreparable damage. Here is another fact: wherever you find two people, you also often find the need for effective conflict resolution. Some men and women have lost their jobs because they never discovered the secrets of conflict resolution. They simply move their way through life, continually cutting off what they could have easily untied. I know churches that have split right down the middle because of this. As a pastor, I have watched homes break up because too many husbands and wives found it easier to simply cut away what could have been untied with some effort. Yes, disagreements are inevitable in life, but they don’t have to be destructive.
Nehemiah 5 finds the Jews faced with the very real possibility that the wall might not be rebuilt due to some conflicts that had arisen between members of Nehemiah’s own team. The success of our own rebuilding projects is largely determined by the manner in which we learn to resolve the conflicts that come knocking. We can do everything else according to plan. However, if we continue to cut what we could be untying, we will never see our own rebuilding process through to successful completion.
This is also true with those who are seeking to rebuild broken relationships. Relationships, like shoelaces, can be tied again if they are not severed. If we have any hope of rebuilding, we must leave our pocketknives in our pockets and avoid the temptation to whip them out and lop off the gnarled knots of twisted relationships. Successful rebuilders know this. When tensions build up, it takes patience and perseverance, determination and dedication to untie tense situations. And these are exactly the sorts of skills we are about to observe Nehemiah using.
The story unfolds before us in the early verses of chapter 5 when the people stopped their work on the wall and began arguing with one another. At the same time, they were stacking up a physical wall around Jerusalem, they were also stacking up an invisible wall of resentment between themselves. Nehemiah was then faced with an escalating situation that threatened to quickly spiral out of control and divert the focus of rebuilding.
The conflict that arose was precipitated by a severe famine that forced many of the workers to mortgage their homes and belongings (5:3). Taxes were choking the very life and sustenance out of them (5:4). And, if that were not bad enough, their own Jewish brothers, who had loaned them money in their time of need, were charging them outlandish interest rates on their loans, making them virtually impossible to repay. As one can imagine, this was wreaking havoc on the morale of the rebuilders along the wall. It is no wonder that Nehemiah became “very angry” (5:6). The situation desperately needed someone skilled in the art of conflict resolution. Because if this conflict could not be resolved, the ultimate goal of rebuilding the broken wall would never be accomplished. It was a critical time in the entire rebuilding effort.
Nehemiah knew this was no time to cut what could be untied. This skillful people person began to untie the knots of conflict and resolve the problems so that everyone could get back to the task of rebuilding. This led to the ultimate conclusion we find in Nehemiah 6:15, “So the wall was finished… in fifty-two days.”
In chapter 5, Nehemiah systematically demonstrates four valuable principles that, when put into practice, can have the same positive results in our own experience that they had in his. Long centuries before any of the modern motivational gurus wrote on conflict resolution, Nehemiah employed four essential and now time-tested elements of conflict resolution:
- There is a time to back off.
- There is a time to stand up.
- There is a time to give in.
- There is a time to reach out.
You will never find successful rebuilders cutting what you can untie, because they know… it’s never too late for a new beginning!
Taken from The Nehemiah Code by O.S. Hawkins. Copyright © 2018 by Dr. O.S. Hawkins. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.
- S. Hawkins is the chancellor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served pastorates, including the First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, for more than 25 years. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, he has a BBA from Texas Christian University and his MDiv and Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For almost a quarter of a century, he served as president of GuideStone Financial Resources, with assets under management of $20 billion, serving 250,000 pastors, church staff members, missionaries, doctors, university professors, and other workers in various Christian organizations with their investment, retirement and benefit service needs. He is the author of more than 40 books, and regularly speaks to business groups and churches all across the nation. All of the author’s royalties and proceeds from the entire Code series go to support Mission:Dignity. You can learn more about Mission:Dignity by visiting MissionDignity.org.
Read more articles by Dr. O.S. Hawkins at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/o-s-hawkins/